Recently, President Donald Trump issued a pardon for a friend of his friends, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who was convicted of offering a bribe for a casino license; issued a pardon for Michael Milken, the junk bond banker who convicted of securities and tax fraud (Milken is also a friend of Trump’s friends); issued a pardon for Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois and a “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant who was convicted of trying to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate; and issues a pardon for … you know what? Nevermind.
It should be obvious at this point that President Trump sees pardons as ways to get his friends off the hook and out of trouble. If Barack Obama or Bill Clinton had done that, congressional Republicans and Fox News pundits (but I repeat myself) would be screaming about abuse of power. Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio would use it as an excuse to pretend to be principled.
Because none of this should be OK. The president should not pardon people who have bribed the government, let alone tried to sell it. What Blagojevich did was the equivalent of President Trump saying that he would nominate whoever paid him the most cash to be the next Supreme Court justice.
Which would be a scandal. Right? Right? Surely even congressional Republicans and Fox News pundits would be outraged about that, right? Sigh …
But far more serious than his abuse of pardons is his pressure on the justice system itself. He has demanded that federal prosecutors alter sentencing recommendations to get one of his campaign contributors who was convicted of obstruction of justice, witness tampering and making false statements under oath (we impeached Clinton for that, remember?) a lighter sentence or even a new trial. A practice so out of bounds that all four prosecutors on the case resigned.
This is an assault on the rule of law itself. As is his demand that the federal government charge with crimes people who testified (as far as we know honestly) in the impeachment hearings and the members of Congress who managed the hearings.
Worst of all is the directive issued by Attorney General Bill Barr stating that any federal investigation of a presidential campaign will need to be approved by him personally. Which — given Barr’s track record on holding the president accountable to the law — means that the Trump campaign will be able to operate with impunity, while the campaigns of his opponents will be investigated for anything they do.
If all these directives are followed, then the message will be loud and clear: Friends and allies of Donald Trump will be immune from the legal system. If they are observed committing a crime, federal investigators will not be allowed to investigate. If they are investigated by state or local officials, federal prosecutors will be leaned on not to charge them with crimes. If they are charged with crimes anyway, the president will accuse the justice system of being unfair and will try to get the sentence reduced. If he can pardon the offense, he will.
The law will only apply to Donald Trump’s enemies.
Don’t tell me I’m overreacting — not when congressional Republicans would not vote to impeach a president for offenses they admit he committed, but do want to vote to investigate people who investigated those abuses of power.
Not when Trump — as just a presidential candidate — said that a judge of Mexican ancestry was unfit to sit on any trials that involved him.
Not when Trump has explicitly said that he has the right to intervene in any criminal trial he wants to. Remember how outraged Republicans were when Clinton just had a conversation with the attorney general during the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails? Back then, the very idea that a president would interfere in an ongoing investigation into someone he was close to was considered — yes — a high crime and misdemeanor.)
If the president has his way, laws will only apply to Democrats and Republicans he doesn’t like.
That is not America as the Founding Fathers envisioned it. Quite the contrary, the whole point was that they didn’t want a king or an aristocracy. But it’s coming increasingly closer to being America today. I guess the question is: is this your America? Is that what you vote for? Is that what we stand for?